Weeks 12 and 13


Week 12 and 13

Last weekend I visited Hauser & Wirth in Bruton to see the exhibition Quaypurlake [see a related article at http://thisistomorrow.info/articles/qwaypurlake]  I have never been to this gallery’s Somerset base, which was once a farm and am very impressed. The architecture is beautiful.  The show, curated by Simon Morrissey, is enigmatic and somewhat melancholy.  The idea for the exhibition is taken partly from the novel by Polish writer Stanisłav Lem, Solaris. As framed by Morrissey, in dialogue with the artists, the exhibition presents a kind of dystopia dominated by an intelligent body of water, where human’s have been marginalised.  In Lem’s novel, there is a planet like a moving sea with a spaceship hovering above it, and the subconscious of the people on the ship starts to unravel... The exhibition itself has a kind of post-capitalist, post-climate disaster feel, for example Adam Rivers’ photographs show people from the future dressed like prehistoric ancestors, their faces masked by hessian headgear.  There is intelligent water in a sense; one sculptor’s work consists of making water vibrate in a rather beautiful, but also disturbing way.  Other than these works, there is no figurative element at all, as though we, the audience, are coming upon this strange landscape ourselves.  The show includes work from different periods relating to Somerset – photographic work by James Ravilious, for example and a painting by Peter Lanyon - to give a sense of a disoriented landscape of uncertain future date, dominated by water after severe flooding. 

I went along to the panel discussion with another artist, chaired by Sam Thorne (Artistic Director of Tate St Ives). There was a lot of talk about the ‘nonsense’ title, taken from the name of a road in Bruton noticed by Simon.  My friend Selina explains to me that the word “Quapurlake” (why did he add the ‘w’ I wonder?) means ‘eel’.  Morrissey had been happy for this word to remain mysterious, conveying the sense of being new to a place and taking it in, enjoying not knowing, a feeling echoed by artist Ian McKeever, who mentioned the pleasure of being in a place and not really knowing its language.  It was curious that, when asked about place in their work, that all the artists decried it, yet I thought that the exhibition was supposed to be about a future Somerset. There is a sense in which it is about a kind of disorientation of time, of place.  Wright says that she feels that it is “about non-place”.  But what of the situation of the person who has been stuck there for a long period by flooding? 

Initially it seems curiously inappropriate to me at a time when paying attention to em-placement matters.  But Morrissey explains his ambition to explore sci-fi as it has provided the basis of political critique.  Artist Daphne Wright says something interesting, that the current socio-political scenario seems rigidified, as though there is no movement in it. There is almost nowhere to move.  Certainly, the humanity seems to be going out of things, in terms of social sculpture, institutions are ever colder.  Does the exhibition allow for some movement, even if it is movement that comes on the back of disaster?  Does it afford a space to reflect on the past, on the future.  I cannot help thinking of the meaning of the word Quapurlake in relation to this; perhaps, like eels, artists are slippery and can slide through gaps, both in space and time.  But what of the wider community? Can artists help people find their own creative resources, to become amphibious, to pull themselves through?

I try to think about how the exhibition might have resonance for my work and I am left with the question of temporality.  Where and when is the groundswell I am referring to?  Is it a future movement?  A dystopian piece or a utopian one, or perhaps neither, for particular reasons?  Following all that has happened in terms of the refugee crisis, does it have little meaning anymore, was it of its moment, just before that happened, referring to Edward Hopper’s painting “Groundswell”? Do I need to rethink?  I worry that perhaps my projected piece no longer has any pregnancy of meaning.  Perhaps groundswell is where I see the movement coming from, so that I want the piece to imply a kind of bursting through, but not necessarily a revolution, rather an evolution, to follow this notion of become amphibious.

On Tuesday I am in Plymouth to do the woodwork induction with Richard Wood.  It is a really valuable session and I am so impressed by the workshop itself, which is well kitted out and very organised.  In so many respects this is a continuation of my artistic education and one I am really glad about.  Things that occur to me:

-       - Again, I really need to be in Plymouth or much nearer as soon as possible to make the most of this opportunity!

-       - I must do some clear project management and drawing in order to use the wood workshop

-       - It is worth my looking again at the book on Maya Lin’s wood sculpture in terms of research.

-       - I like the machines that hold the wood in place, is that a fetish?  They are like tools of constraint!

I realise I must stop worrying and start re-planning and testing.

After lunch I go round the “Soil Culture” exhibition at the University [https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/whats-on/dig-it], which is a pleasure. I find thought-provoking work, including Mel Chin’s wonderful “Revival Field” created in Minneapolis St Pauls, no less! I am delighted as I am part of a research network which includes the University of Minnesota, artist Christine Baeumler has been doing some fantastic environmentally engaged artwork in Minneapolis St Pauls.  I am also particularly drawn to work by Claire Pentecost – particularly her vision of a currency based on the richness of soil – and Paole’s Barrile’s “Message Earth” work.  It makes me think again about notions of value (and how they sit within a capitalist context), and seeing Matt Robinson's work, also my initial thoughts about using cob.  Cob is something people can co-produce and does not result in a uniformly pessimistic image, but it carries with it its own associations. I need to go to the materials, they will tell me.  I realise that I really need to go back to my practice statement.  What is my work really all about?  If it is about precarity and states of emergency, if it is about survival, then how does groundswell tie in.  And how am I working with the language of sculptural installation to explore it?  I feel as though I almost need to go back to first principles, to ask myself: what exactly are you investigating and why?

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